The nine lives of Ken Schwan

WATSONVILLE — If Ken Schwan was a cat he’s already burned through two of his nine lives.

Nearly six months after Schwan, owner of Monterey Bay Caterers, survived a brutal crash where a tow truck slammed into him on his motorcycle in March, he’s back in the kitchen, in his office and out in the field.

Though slightly dented, hobbling about on a walker with an arm support and on a prosthetic leg, Schwan said he’s happy to be back at what he knows best and to settle in to a familiar routine of serving up homemade food with a work crew that treats him like family.

It’s not the first time Schwan has been carted off in a rescue helicopter. In 2000 he was struck by a 10-year-old boy driving his dad’s jeep in the Nevada desert.

Schwan, a big name in the food industry around the Pajaro Valley, is on a long road to recovery following the March 16 crash he survived near Palm Springs.

Schwan, who has owned the West Lake Avenue business with his wife, Kathy, for the past 37 years, is widely known for catering hundreds of local business and political events and various celebrations. He is also a major donor to scads of local events including sports teams, the Watsonville Senior Center, local charities and umpteen fundraisers.

On March 16, Schwan was on a motorcycle trip with a fellow motorcyclist to view major league baseball spring training in Arizona. Upon his return, Schwan and his friend went to take a coffee break at a Starbucks when he was struck broadside by a tow truck. His friend was not hurt. 

Schwan suffered multiple major injuries.

He was flown by helicopter to a nearby trauma center with several broken bones and underwent numerous surgeries. He was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks.

“I’ve broken out crying many times since my return to work,” Schwan said. “It’s a long process but I’m slowly coming back.”

Schwan was riding his Suzuki V Strom bike at 29 Palms Joshua Tree National Park on State Highway 62 when the crash occurred.

“I was all lit up, with bright colors and a bright yellow helmet,” he said. “I’ve always worn all the safety gear. All of sudden I looked up and a tow truck was accelerating and turning in front of me and tagged me: that’s pretty much all I remember. We were doing about 30 miles per hour. We were on our way home.”

Among others to stop to give aid, Schwan said, four emergency medical technicians from a nearby Marine base rushed in to help.

“They jumped out and tourniquet-ed me up; I had multiple compound fractures,” Schwan said. “It bothers me that I haven’t been able to find them to thank them.”

Schwan has thus far has undergone 11 surgeries.

“We lost track after I went through around 33 or 34 pints of blood,” he said Monday while leaning on the dining counter at his popular restaurant. “I think the body has only 10 or 12 pints. My head got cracked pretty good despite my helmet that was in pretty good shape. They put two stints in my heart. I also had a heart attack during all of this. My left arm was crushed from the wrist to above the elbow. They put in a plate with 30 screws where they took chunks of bone and screwed it to the bone to create a scaffold. I also take about 18 different pills a day.”

After 30 days in the Desert Regional Medical Center trauma center, Schwan was ultimately transferred to Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula where he remained about 15 days.

“I ended up with bone infections on top of heart palpitations,” he said. “With all this going on I also spent 22 days at UCSF. The whole time this was like watching a movie. I’ve been fairly pain-free. The only thing that really hurts is my arm and I’m also dealing with phantom pain. I turned 61 in the hospital down in Palm Springs on April 7.”

Schwan added that medical expenses have exceeded $2 million.

When asked how he moves forward with a smile on his face, Schwan plainly said, “I could break out crying in a heart beat. You try not to think about it too much. I received around 200 hand-written cards from people — businesses, friends, city council. The community support has been incredible. I can’t say enough about Michelle and the crew running this place through all of this. I try to look at this like I’m just a dude who runs a catering business where I treat people fairly and they treat me fairly. I like what I do. I try to be there when I can.”


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